Kwabena Akurang-Parry, Ph.D. responds to No. 848 by Richard Joseph

I have just read another essay on the hopelessness of Africa. This time it is not from an errant  Western journalist who enjoys the best services of first class hotels in Addis Ababa, Dakar, Accra, Nairobi, and Lagos, yet writes that African countries lack even inns. Now we have Professor Richard Joseph of Northwestern University, a seasoned political scientist. He is not your average sophomoric journalist who recasts Africa in a laundry list of problems. Professor Joseph has a prescription. It is a dosage of homegrown leadership. It is not that this is yet another bad political pill for Africans. Indeed, it is a good one. I have been wondering about the loss of Africanist voices in the worldwide prescriptive singing-debates regarding foreign aid to Africa, hence Professor Joseph must be congratulated. But my concern is that this type of lopsided media-like account mummifies African capabilities and capacities in sarcophaguses of myth-making.


How can African states cultivate homegrown leadership when their political economies are dominated by the composite neocolonial entity that calls itself G-8? Until level playing fields for free and equitable trade are created, all these noise-making about foreign aid and debt cancellation would  not translate into "African prosperity." Neither would it create a seedbed for the cultivation of homegrown African leadership, the type prescribed by Professor Joseph.

What I have not read from the avalanche of prescriptions for  "immemorial" Africa is that foreign aid comes with  strings attached. For example, African leaders are instructed on how to use foreign aid granted to them, including where to buy vehicles etc. Go to Ghana and see the World Bank-sponsored Pajeros, SUVS etc. Go to Ghana and see privileged Western "bureaucrats" who administer foreign aid. They are paid from the foreign aid. They have Ghanaian  maidservants, garden-boys, flower-girls, laundrymen, drivers, cooks, chambermaids, and even consorts, both males and females. These incongruous appendages that serve the needs of the Western "bureaucrats" are paid from the foreign aid too. 

The irony is that such Western "bureaucrats" are in their early twenties, a strong indication that most of them are recent college graduates with no work experience in Africa. And anyone who has taught Africa-area courses to college students in the West must shift a little in his/her chair and consider the condescending views, indeed what David Theo Goldberg, calls "racial knowledge" which  such Western "bureaucrats"  bring to the Africanized leadership table. They are modern agents whose corrosive bureaucratic posturing impoverishes leadership in Africa. And they are like the bunch of Imperial Britain's college graduates  who displaced educated Ghanaians in the colonial period. Yes, it was what homegrown Eurocentric scholars euphemistically hail as Indirect Rule.

Whether leadership is culturalist, nationalist or globalist/internationalist oriented its  fruitful survivability must be based on a  continuous process rooted in experimental modifications.  Sadly to say that modern African states are infants forcibly procreated by the colonial powers. Colonial rule in Africa, however defined, was a period of unmitigated violence, devoid of  any leadership training. Rather the solid and other burgeoning forms of viable leadership patterns common in precolonial Africa were uprooted by colonialism. Democracy, as Chinua Achebe makes clear in "Things Fall Apart," is not un-African. Visit the palace of any chieftain in my native Akuapem in Ghana, for example, and you would fall in love with the foundational embers of democracy in precolonial Africa..

 Therefore when we write about leadership in Africa we need to fathom the past for answers. We need to look into the mist of the politicized present for answers. Today, the oldest independent African states are barely fifty years old. And yet some of us imply that postcolonial African states are as old as Britain and France! Worse still, in the evocations of metaphors of doom that celebrates the obscurity of Africa, there is the tendency to overlook the legacies of slavery, colonialism, and neocolonialism, or at best they are seen as minor footnotes in African history.

Professor Joseph should do well to tell us about how Western imperialism and neocolonial tactics have impeded homegrown leadership in Africa. Consider the impact of the massive exiling and killing of African rulers as well as the dismantling of indigenous political institutions in the colonial period! With regard to the postcolonial era these questions should suffice here. Why and how did Nkrumah see his political demise so soon? Who propped up the Mobutus and the Amins? Where did Bokassa get his political inspiration from? There are Western scholars, who in spite of Jerry Rawlings' sanguine nineteen-year rule, sing his praises in books filled with paralytic theories of governance. It is therefore not surprising that Rawlings and his kind are globe-trotting, happily masquerading as eminent African elder statesmen. Clad in Kente and Agbada, our Western-anointed eminent African elder statesmen hobble in the duplicitous corridors of Western institutions and governments.


Given the predatory nature of contemporary global politics the nurturing  of homegrown leadership in Africa is still a dangerous task and a miragic goal. I would use a metaphorical stretch here! "Home" is too open, bigger, and more dangerous still. How about "Roomgrown" There African leadership can thrive!  This I think would do the trick! It would bridge the antipodal gap of otherness and the "othering" of African realities.  So let us pitch our bets on "Roomgrown" leadership! Hurray Africa I have offered you another apocalyptic, Hobbesian  construct!